For an American boy growing up in the 50’s there was one sport, baseball.
For a substantial part of my childhood I played baseball every day. Day after day, I would eat breakfast, pick up my glove and head out to the field. There we would choose sides and play slow pitch. No parents, no helmets, no umpires, no catchers, no base stealing or bunting. Nobody ever negotiated those rules, that’s just the way it was. That was what I did until it was time to come home for dinner. The glove was the device I couldn’t do without. Bats and balls were more treated as communal property but the glove was always in my possession.
I was, as you could imagine, more than anxious to hit the age when I could play Little League. Little League in Totowa was for kids aged 9-12 (boys only of course) and that presented an issue I hadn’t given much thought to. There is an enormous developmental difference between the 9-year-old and the 12-year-old. So standing at the plate as a 9-year-old and having the biggest, strongest and most athletic 12-year-old firing in his hardest fastball was a paralyzing experience. During that first year I usually got one or two at bats per game and if I was able to achieve one foul tip in those at bats it was a good night.
My dad was a Giants fan, as in New York Giants. He was not a big fan of travelling into New York. When he took me to the Polo Grounds he wanted to get the biggest bang for his buck so we always went to Sunday doubleheaders. I remember a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which the Pirates pitcher Bob Friend won both games, starting the first and relieving in the second. He also batted seventh in the batting order. I also remember a doubleheader against the Cubs in which Willie Mays had what I considered an inside-the-park home run that was actually a multiple error. Starting with a ground ball that produced a bad throw to first, Mays tried to go all the way to third and when that throw got by the third baseman he headed home. Ernie Banks was the Cubs first baseman.
When the Dodgers and Giants left town there wasn’t going to be any Yankees baseball or any American League baseball in our house. Instead of the House That Ruth Built, my dad would take me to Philly when the Giants were visiting Connie Mack Stadium.
We were a split family in terms of rooting interests and my Dad’s mother was a die-hard Dodgers fan. My Mom was a little more open minded than my Dad so she brought me and my grandmother to Ebbets Field. I was probably five or six at the time and all I remember about that game is that the Dodgers played Cincinnati who at the time were still known as the Redlegs. (Maybe it was just that my grandmother still called them Redlegs.) Weird name but Red Sox was already taken and Red Shoes was not sufficiently masculine for the 50’s. Baseball players in the 50’s wore pants that stopped at the knee so the long red socks made the Redlegs name seem to fit.
I also saw the Dodgers play the Redlegs at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. The site is currently a townhouse complex called Society Hill. The Dodgers played a couple games a year there and I went with some connection of my father’s who knew Redlegs second baseman Johnny Temple. After the game he took me to the locker room where I met Johnny Temple and got an autograph. MLB marketers say those kind of memories last a lifetime. There’s your proof.
Eventually we were all able to re-unite and live in peace as Mets fans but that was the 60’s and thus beyond the scope of this post.
If I wanted to see American League baseball I had to hang with the other side of the family. My maternal grandmother had a guy living in her house we called Uncle Rob although no one has ever explained to me how we were related. Uncle Rob rarely left his room where he watched the ballgames on TV and kept score. But one of the times he did step out he brought me along and we went by bus to Yankee Stadium. We got there about two hours early, bought general admission bleacher tickets, and set ourselves up in the front row of right field. The two extra hours at the ballpark was no problem. I couldn’t get enough.
The Yankees were playing the Washington Senators. They are not to be confused with the existing Washington baseball team, nor were they the Washington Senators who packed up in 1971 and became the Texas Rangers. These Senators started in Washington in 1901 and in 1960 moved to Minneapolis and became the Twins.
No event was bigger in the 50’s than the World Series. Everyone found a way to watch it, even though the games were all played in the day. And there were no playoffs just the big event, National League champion vs. American League champion, with the pennant decided solely by regular season record.
I was in 5th grade when the Yankees-Pirates World Series went to game 7. (Not actually the 50’s since that was the 1960 World Series but culturally we hadn’t crossed into a new decade.) Since this was a must see event being played on a Thursday afternoon my teacher brought into school what was probably a 13 inch TV, black and white with rabbit ears, set it on a chair in front of the classroom, and that is how we watched Mazerowsky’s home run. As a Giants fan that blow was more dramatic and traumatic for me.